Selling recycling

January 28, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Organicycle isn’t just recycling the garbage; it’s also selling a marketing concept.

In January, food waste at the Sundance Grill on 28th Street SE stopped going into a landfill when Organicycle began picking it up and delivering it to a composting company in Zeeland.

Organicycle, a food and organic waste collection company, was founded last year by Dan Tietema, its president, and now includes Justin Swan as vice president of sales and development.

So far Organicycle has only one restaurant on its client list, but Swan is quick to note that “we’re just piloting our process right now.”

The two have a van they use to collect food waste that then goes to Spurt Industries in Zeeland, which for years has been turning wood scraps and other organic materials into compost for addition to soil on gardens and lawns.

Tietema and Swan also have their eye on turning organic waste into energy, and they are pitching to potential business clients the public relations/marketing value of being green.

Jeff Lobdell, owner of the Sundance Grill and other restaurants in the Grand Rapids area, said his business has “always been proactive in developing new trends that have a positive impact on our industry,” in the form of practices that have “a positive impact on the community and the environment.”

Tietema got his start in waste hauling when he launched Omni Medical Waste Inc. He had that business for about 10 years before selling it recently to a competitor.

The disposal of medical waste is highly regulated by the state, he noted, so Omni Medical Waste focused on helping its customers meet those regulations.

After a decade at Omni Waste, Tietema said he learned “what’s coming down the pike.”

“The fact is, I learned there are different streams of waste being separated for recycling,” he said, noting that most people by now are aware of the practice of separating paper, plastics, glass and metal from trash so that each can be fully recycled rather than sending them all to a landfill.

Food waste from restaurants, cafeterias and private homes “happens to be the next product that needs to be separated” from the rest of the trash, said Tietema.

Organicycle provides the Sundance Grill with large, compostable bags for its food waste. Organicycle also provides plastic rolling carts, made by Cascade Engineering, that the filled bags are stored in until it is time for pickup. The whole bag and contents are then composted at Spurt.

Swan said next year is expected to bring another interesting development at Organicycle, “when we finalize the partnerships with some new technology providers, in which they can produce bioethanol” from food waste.

Although corn now is the main ingredient in ethanol made for adding to gasoline, Swan said, “It doesn’t make sense to use corn in that particular fashion when we can make ethanol from almost every food waste and wood-based product out there.”

Swan declined to identify who they are talking to about a partnership to turn food waste into bioethanol.

He noted how restaurants used to have to pay waste haulers to remove their used cooking oil: “Nowadays, they get paid for that substance.”

But food waste does not yet have that much value for recycling. Swan said Organicycle is trying to target its pricing so that it is cost neutral for restaurants that subscribe to the pickup service.

While restaurants are now the primary target market, Swan said schools, hospital food services and corporate cafeterias are also promising territory. Large corporations in particular, he noted, “like to market that they are sustainable” businesses, and recycling food waste would add to that claim.

“We are really a company that has three steps,” said Tietema. The first step is consultation and education with potential clients; the next step is management of the collection/removal process by Organicycle. “And third, we help your company market their sustainable efforts.”

That help, he said, comes in the form of providing an opportunity to launch an initiative to become more sustainable. Many offices, said Tietema, have zero waste initiatives, but those efforts are limited to recycling paper, plastics and metals. “What we are providing is that next vehicle to help them become zero waste,” he said.

“It’s all about marketing,” said Tietema, “all about what you bring out there into the community, what you are portraying yourselves as. And right now, being sustainable is a must.

“And it doesn’t matter how big your company is,” he added. “Right now, the big boys are doing it — they have the resources — (but) everyone else lives in the real world. They see what the big boys are doing, but they may not have a sustainability manager, and that’s where we come in.”

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